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Judah Ben Hur Fiction at its best...

Vengeance It had kept me going. The hate. The chance to pull through And see him again, And kill. Had he not killed Everything I treasured Family, estate, position? Thrusting me to slave ships, And my loved ones To ill-lit lock-ups. He was a boyhood chum Gone from Jerusalem Thralled by Caesar And army opportunity. He could not countenance Coldness to Roman ambition.

C. Doug Blair Waterloo, ON, 2014

I became As good as dead. But the fates were kind. I am here to race In Pilate’s Grand Circus. And to humble him, Massala, master charioteer. How is it that I sense One of us will not Walk out of this thing


Release Esther had heard Him first Through those days when I recovered from The race, the blood, The dust, adrenaline and Massala’s riddled corpse. The hillside Teacher With strange words of peace And new beginnings. But none of such for me. Rome was a cancer In our land Could I be a surgeon? A patriot Jew? And then they took Him Bogus claims of sedition And heresy. A Cross awaiting. Commotion drew me To those crowded streets,

The jeering, That hill… The intense shaking, The darkness at mid-day. The butchering. “Father, forgive them.” (That face I recognized! A cool drink and a smile On a slave’s march.) And with His kingly demise I felt the sword leave my hand.

Case Study on Revenge Watched it again this evening (Easter Sunday). Pulled out the old VHS cassette and RCA player to watch the conclusion of the epic film Ben Hur (MGM 1959). This remains one of my favourites. It stars Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Sam Jaffe and Hugh Griffith (the bright-eyed Arab horseman). In the second reel we had gotten past the accident which sends Judah Ben Hur's family into Roman custody, the slave procession through the desert, a chance meeting with Jesus the carpenter, the Roman galley ships in battle, the oarsman Ben Hur falling into the favour of the Roman commander, and the pomp in Rome where this Jewish nobleman receives Roman adoption. Returning whole and hale to Jerusalem he stuns his boyhood friend turned nemesis, the Roman commander Massala. He was responsible for locking up Judah's family. The chariot games are scheduled before the new Governor Pontius Pilate, and the Jew is bent on victory and revenge in defeating and out-wagering Massala, master charioteer. The presentation of the crowds, the arena and the thundering chariots was a masterpiece for all time in cinematography. Suffice it to say that Massala's infractions of the rules of the event cost him an upset and his life, but not before telling the Jew that his mother and sister are living skeletons in the Valley of the Lepers (transferred with the plague from their prison). The Hur house servant, and romantic interest, the beautiful Esther, has been giving them extra care for years, but they now dread seeing the estranged son and brother in their horrible condition. She tries her best, but unsuccessfully, to keep him away. It appears that the Jew is about to launch organized revolt in his hatred of Rome. A chance encounter on a hillside with Esther puts him within yards of one of Jesus' captivating out-of-doors messages. An old man named Balshazar, and an acquaintance of Hur's for years, encourages him to come hear the wonderful words of the Nazarene. "I have found him, and am thoroughly convinced that He is the Son

of God." Without a word Hur gets up as if to leave. The other sighs, "You still choose death". I had forgotten that line, but it aptly describes Hur's angry hold on life through the years for sake of revenge by the sword. Those who reject the message and promise of the Christ still choose death. I will sum up briefly. Hur finds his way with family and Esther to the Via Dolorosa and Calvary's Hill. He witnesses the Man of Sorrows in extremis but without any show of hatred. The impact of this sight is life-changing. I will never forget the scene where the blood from the Cross co-mingles with storm rainwater and flows abroad. In that storm Judah's mother and sister, speaking good words of the Nazarene, are healed of their contagion. Believers all. Happy reunion in the Hur household. The hate forgot. The last spoken words by Ben Hur: "When I heard His (Christ's) voice, the sword left my hand." Pastoral scene of a shepherd leading his flock. The End.

Lew Wallace: Light Dawning

I was about twelve when John MacNee Sr. took four of us boys to see the epic movie Ben Hur. It had a huge impact - scenes of Palestine, naval battles in slave galleys, chariot races, festivals at Rome, scenes of Jesus' Galilean ministry, leper colonies and Easter week. Judah Ben Hur was an angry and vengeful man. Betrayed by a boyhood friend into slavery, years at sea fighting Rome's enemies, freedom granted by the very man who put him at the oars, training in a charioteer's stable and ultimate victory in the ring and restoration to home and Jerusalem. But only three things motivated him - staying alive, enjoying the sweet death of his enemy Massala and finding his displaced mother and sister. Judah was in Jerusalem during the trial and execution of the prophet Jesus of Nazareth. His experience was life-changing. (See the video strip posted in this blog.) What seeds were planted by this trip to the movies? The power of forgiveness, the compassion of Christ, the matchless work of the cross. Of the four young viewers, John Jr. went on to become a lawyer and a diplomat, Peter an Anglican rector and canon, David a writer for the C.B.C. and myself, well... The origin of the story is fascinating. Major General Lew Wallace of the Union Army in the U.S. Civil War distinguished himself only moderately, then returned in civilian life to the practice of law, and stints as Governor of the New Mexico Territory and Diplomatic Minister to the Ottomon Empire. He became interested in writing. At the time he began the novel, "Ben Hur, A story of the Christ" (1880) he would not have called himself a man of faith, but something happened...

The following account is taken from a Masters program paper submitted in the Department of History at Miami University (2005), Oxford, Ohio: Curiously, Wallace remembered, “To lift me out of my indifference, one would think only strong affirmations of things regarded holiest would do,” such as could be found in the written and spoken words of pastors and theologians.21 Yet it was not the testimony of the faithful that shook Wallace out of his indifference; rather it was the speech of the “Great Infidel,” Colonel Robert Green Ingersoll. Ingersoll was infamous for traveling the country delivering lectures on the merits of unbelief. Wallace was well aware of Ingersoll’s reputation, but he was also personally acquainted with him. Both men served at Shiloh, and they were also active in the Republican Party. In 1876, a soldiers’ reunion and the Republican National Convention simultaneously converged in Indianapolis and allowed for an encounter that would challenge Wallace’s religious apathy. Wallace boarded the evening Indianapolis bound train in Crawfordsville. He made his way down the aisle and was passing the stateroom when he heard a knock on the window. Wallace opened the stateroom door to discover Ingersoll inside, eager for conversation. Wallace consented to provide the conversation if he could dictate the subject. Ingersoll acquiesced. Wallace began by asking if there is a God. Ingersoll, as expected, answered that he did not know and asked Wallace if he did. Wallace continued, asking if there was a devil, heaven, hell, and hereafter. Ingersoll supplied the same response to each inquiry, “I do not know, do you?” After establishing the topics of conversation, Wallace allowed Ingersoll to begin. Wallace remembered, “I sat spellbound, listening to a medley of argument, eloquence, wit, satire, audacity, irreverence, poetry, brilliant antitheses, and pungent excoriation of believers in God, Christ, and Heaven, the like of which I had never heard.”22Two hours later the train rolled into Indianapolis’ Central Station where Wallace and Ingersoll parted company. Wallace declined soliciting a streetcar to bear him to his brother’s residence on the northeast side of town; Ingersoll’s statements had made him feel like walking.23 “Trudging on in the dark, alone except as one’s thoughts may be company,” Wallace recalled, “I was aroused for the first time in my life to the importance of religion.”24 He considered it ironic that “outright denials of all human knowledge of God, Christ, Heaven, and the Hereafter” would stir him out of indifference.25 Wallace’s “reading had covered nearly every other subject” except religion.26 He admitted reading the great sermons of the day, but “always for the surpassing charm of their rhetoric” and not for their spiritual message.27 THE FALL AND RISE OF LEW WALLACE: GAINING LEGITIMACY THROUGH POPULAR CULTURE by Shaun Chandler Lighty

At the Chariot Circus Round and round the track of dust and death. Integrity, recompense and huge wagers all at stake.

Ben Hur and his Arab sponsor leading out the beautiful team of white horses. Massala arriving late at the initial line-up. All in black. Horses. Intentions. Countenance. And those horrible chariot wheels with their wrecking outstretched blades. For me this chapter in the epic will always be one of the best moments of film. Remember that it was produced in the 1950's. No computer generated imaging. Real action captured. Real crowds assembled in excitement. Real stunt crews risking their necks. And one by one the participating rigs crash and overturn. Wreckage frantically removed as the race rages on. But one mess cannot be dealt with in time, and Ben Hur's chariot is heading straight for it. Up and over go the beautiful whites. Then the chariot; but something is wrong. Ben Hur is vaulted over the front of the unit by sheer momentum. Only his one leg holds him from going down and under those beating hooves. And the cameras continue to whir. And the Diector's eyes are wide at the blessing of this unanticipated thrill. And the actor Charlton Heston is holding on for dear life. Quite a moment! All true. Climbing back into the cab, our hero re-grapples the reins and sizes up the approach of his nemesis. In come those bladed wheels of death. They graze the outside of the wheel rim. Sparks flying. Massala pulls aside and re-aligns. His target of course is Ben Hur's spokes. He smiles with cruelty and whips his old boyhood friend time and again. But his thrust misses the mark. His own wheel snaps. The unit drops down and flips over. The charioteer is thrown to the dust, prone, and prey for following racers and their horses' hooves. Massala is trampled repeatedly and thrown like a limp rag doll. The best of Roman physic proves useless. The Captor has been bested by the man he imagined dead in warring galley ships, a slave.

Beautiful Gospel Under-current The timing of this story coincides with the earth walk of Jesus. Jerusalem is an unpleasant outpost of the Roman Empire. The inhabitants dream of their promised Messiah. An old man drifts in and out of the story line. It is inferred that he was one of the Wise Men who visited the Christ child. In later years he is searching for the young man Messiah. A freak accident places the aristocratic family of Judah Ben Hur in disfavour with the Roman occupiers. His one-time boyhood friend holds the fate of the family in his hands. The decision: Judah to be sent to the coast and slave galleys; his Mother and Sister to be sent to prison and ultimately the leper colony.

A slave's march takes weary prisoners past a Carpenter's Shop. The Carpenter takes pity on the chained men and offers drink, Judah Ben Hur included. The Sergeant with whip is incensed and struts over to teach this intruder a lesson. But then there is eye contact. The soldier freezes, stunned and embarrassed. He cannot mete out the discipline as he gazes upon the face of that Carpenter. The march continues and our hero looks backward, refreshed and renewed, and most thankful for that Man of Mercy. Providence is kind to our protagonist. In a tragic battle at sea Ben Hur's ship sinks and he is able to rescue the Captain from drowning. A friendship ensues. Glorious return to Rome. Adoption of “Number 41” by a thankful new father, and more opportunity than could have been imagined. But the Jew longs for Jerusalem and Home. In his return trip he meets a fascinating rascal of an Arab horseman, bound for the competition of Pontius Pilate's Circus. The events of the chariot race have been described in an earlier posting. Ben Hur's family estate lies in ruins, but an old household steward and his beautiful daughter Esther have stayed on. Esther provides the love interest. Over the years she has sought out and supported the imprisoned Mother and Sister. She has also frequented the public gatherings of the Carpenter from Galilee. She is fascinated by his ethic and has pledged herself as a follower. But Judah will have none of this. He sees himself now as a spearhead of Jewish patriotism and retribution. That is...until the Passion Week of the Christ. The Via Dolorosa. The unimagined cruelty of men, Jewish and Gentile. That kind Carpenter with water in that slave's interlude of long ago! Here! Now the victim of the worst of Religion and Politics. Judah bursts through the jeering crowd with water. Again eye contact. And then Golgotha. A Cross. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Our hero's family and beloved share with him in this experience. And they watch Kindness submit and die. Judah's hatred is broken by this image. Mercy. Promise. Forgiveness. Peace. Lessons in an instant. And what of the leprous family members? Speaking kind words of the Carpenter. Standing out cold and wet in the terrifying mid-day darkness, rainstorm and earthquake. Blood and water mingling at the foot of a Rugged Cross and flowing out everywhere. (1 John 5: 7, 8) Healed of their affliction by Divine Act! (1 Peter 2: 23, 24) All has been restored.

Judah ben hur